Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Trip to Another World

Sea Lions in Monterey Bay
As we left the harbor, two sea lions followed in our wake, while pelicans flew along the shore. Pencil and water-soluble pencil in a Hand Book Journal sketchbook.

Last October, I traveled to a different world. I went whale watching in Monterey Bay with John Muir Laws and the Nature Journal Club. It was an amazing day.  Sanctuary Cruises, with their small, bio-diesel powered boat, took us out into the middle of the Bay, to what felt like a completely different planet.  Humpback whales had been feeding there on anchovies all summer.  The sea lions would attach schools of anchovy in a frenzy, then the whales would join in around the edges.  It was a bad day to be an anchovy.

At times, we could see three groups of whales spouting or breaching at the same time: one group close to us, another a little ways away, and a third near the horizon.  Along with the humpbacks, we saw Risso’s dolphins, sea lions by the hundreds, common murres, and even a shearwater or two.

Common Murre in Montery Bay sketch
Common murres were everywhere, no doubt also feeding on the anchovy. Several tried to flee the boat, but couldn’t get airborne–bellies too full, perhaps? Pencil in Hand Book Journal sketchbook.
Humpack whales in Monterey Bay
The humpbacks were everywhere that day. Pencil in a Hand Book Journal sketchbook.

Because this was the Nature Journal Club, and the intent was to sketch nature, I didn’t even bring my camera. Instead, we sketched, sometimes furiously.  My sketches turned out to be more like gesture drawings.  What I couldn’t capture on paper were the smells—sometimes we smelled fish, sometimes whale breath (a bit like stale beer, mixed with fish).

From what I’m hearing, the humpbacks continue in Monterey Bay again this year. Is it the recovery of the population since we stopped hunting them? Or is it climate change that has brought them closer to the shore?  Bay Nature had an article about the humpback populations in the Bay again this year—it might be ocean currents or the periodic peak in anchovy populations.  Whatever the cause, I’m grateful I had the chance to see the gathering last year.

Whale in Monterey Bay
The landscape painter in me tried to capture the view of the shore from the boat. Pencil in a Hand Book Journal sketchbook.

Have you been whale-watching lately? What did you see? Leave a comment, below, and let us know.

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Sycamore Leaves

Sycamore Leaves Sketch
Sycamore Leaves. ©2014 Stephanie Benedict. 3 1/2 in x 5 1/8 in., watercolor and water soluble pencils in a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook.

Autumn isn’t typically Sacramento’s best season. Most of the native trees don’t turn the brilliant colors you see in colder climates; we don’t have sugar maples or beech trees here. Oh, some of the newer subdivisions have planted Chinese pistache and liquidamber trees, which put on a nice show.  But many of our trees are quieter in color.

I decided to sketch some sycamore leaves, to see if I could capture the very subtle colors of the leaves as they lose their chlorophyll and turn first yellowy green. (They then just fade into a kind of gray-brown, and then fall off the tree.)  It made a good exercise both to try for the subtle changes and to practice my watercolor technique.  I added the pencil later, to try to get some of the texture of the leaves.

In the comments below, let us know what autumn is like where you live.